Santiago Pinotepa Nacional to Comitan de Domingues. 15th February 2001. 8,950 miles.
The scenery is now very picturesque with fertile valleys and rivers. Lots of small farms with healthy looking cattle. Apart from a 1000ft climb out of town, the roads are very good and cross many large areas of marsh. We saw our first Motmots today. If you don't know what they are - ask a birdwatcher. For some obscure reason, there seems to be a lot less dead animals on the roads. Perhaps they tidy them up around here or maybe the vultures are up earlier.
David bought a new pair of Y fronts for only 10 pesos. Joan said it was about time too.
Still very good scenery. We cycled the same section of coast we did ten years ago but in the other direction this time. Puerto Escondido is the same as it was ten years ago, but a bit more expensive although there are places to stay for all tastes.
We opted to stay in a very quiet spot a few miles past the town and treated ourselves to one of the best meals yet. Joan had fish with rice and chips and David had seafood cocktail. As usual, we ate half and then swapped plates. This, with two beers cost about six pounds.
In Puerto Angel we found a small place with enormous rooms and a large balcony overlooking the sea. In the next room were Annie and Reggie Brim from North Pole, Alaska. We had not been there but we cycled not far from it. They were staying in Puerto Angel for the four months of the Alaskan winter. Reg worked in the oil industry and had driven trucks up and down the Haul Road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. He said that he regularly stopped and gave food to cyclists on the road.
The road out of Puerto Angel climbed 1200ft. Ten years ago, we came down it and it seemed a lot easier then! The next 70 miles was through a National Park area and apart from a few cafes there was nothing except a huge coastal Club-Med complex which we avoided. No signs of a hotel or anywhere to stay, but we were finally directed to Alfonso who has rooms to let in Santiago Astato, there was nothing much else there, but the next possibility was another 70 miles further on. Only one small camp bed but Alfonso strung up a hammock across the room. David claimed it.
Saw our first ever Lineated Woodpecker. This is a large woodpecker with a flaming red crest on the back of its head.
There is a strange weather phenomenon which we have experienced several times in the last few days. The temperature of the wind changes rapidly in seconds from a cool breeze to a searing hot breeze as though someone had opened the oven door. Fortunately the searing hot part does not last long. This usually happens only in hilly areas. Can anyone explain this? (E-mail us - no prizes offered).
Another change of plan. Oaxaca is reported to be much more expensive than it used to be and a more careful look at the map shows that we must return to sea level at Santo Domingo Tehuantepec and go back up again. So, we went there first before going up into the mountains.
At Tehuantepec we stayed in an old monastery. A narrow street crammed tight with market stalls ran though the centre of the town. Not uncommon, but the stalls were astride a railway line running in the centre of the street. At 7pm prompt all the stalls disappeared to let trains through.
The road out was quite windy but nobody had told us of what was to come. The wind gradually increased in force and occasionally gusted violently. A 20-mile stretch of road had severe cross wind gusting up to 60 mph and we got blown off the road and occasionally also off our bikes as large trucks sped past. Fortunately the wind blew us off the road and not into the road, although passing trucks tended to suck us into their slipstream. It became so dangerous that where-ever possible we would ride in the sandy ruts by the side of the road or get off the road and stop when we could see trucks coming. This stretch of road is notorious and the second windiest in the whole of the Americas. The first is Patagonia and is yet to come. It is caused by the plain at the isthmus of Mexico.
At Zanotopec three Americans stayed at the same hotel - Neil, on a motorcycle was a writer of travel books. Mary and Max were from Texas, but lived for a portion of the year in Guatemala. We may stay with them in Guatemala.
The road now started to climb. We thought the winds were over, but more was to come. In the mountains, there were certain hairpin bends where the wind was so strong (against us) that it was impossible to ride and any attempts resulted in us getting blown off the road. A few times the wind was so strong that we had to crouch down and hang on tightly to our bikes and wait for a lull. When we reached Cintalepa we were exhausted after covering 64 miles in 9 hours.
Cintalepa was the liveliest town yet. It was full of stalls, decorations, and the plaza was surrounded by fairground rides.
The wind has now decreased and the temperature much cooler. It now gets cold at night, but it is a relief from the 80 degrees nighttime temperatures we have had.
The new plan is to have a side trip by bus from San Christobel de las Casas to see the Maya ruins at Palenque. There may be a problem staying in San Christobel as on the 15th of Feb., Bush and Fox the new president of USA and Mexico are meeting there. We expect lots of security and possibly shortage of accommodation, if not inflated prices.
There are now lots of Indians along the road selling wares, especially brightly coloured carpets.
Our arrival fairly late on the 11th Feb in San Christabel allayed our fears of problems. No security, plenty of hotels and a few tourists. We had a choice of places from 50 pesos a room upwards. Apparently, the presidents were not actually meeting in the town, but at President Fox's ranch several miles away and the town would not be affected. Internet access is now very cheap at 10 pesos an hour.
Two bus tickets were booked for 1.15am in the morning for a five-hour trip to Palenque, and we checked in for two nights at 70 pesos a night in a small, very basic place with tiny courtyard. As we came out of a bike shop with a new tyre a shout of "Are you biking?" came from across the road. It was another cyclist, this time from Australia and cycling south to north. We arranged to meet again and exchanged many useful tips as we had covered each other's future routes.
Palanque by bus starting at 1.15a.m! After a five-hour bus trip trying unsuccessfully to get some sleep, we took a Collectivo (VW minibus taxi) to the ruins. There were very few tourists there (a common story in all the tourists spots). Palenque is a large area of Maya ruins dating from 800 AD and in our opinion was worth the detour, but not as grand in scale as Monte Alban in Oaxaca. Again, a return five-hour bus trip. The bus trips left us more exhausted than had we ridden our bikes all day. On this stretch of road we heard reports that two cyclists had been robbed at gunpoint in the last two weeks.
Bought a map of Guatemala and a Rough Guide to Central America. These cost the equivalent of two days hotel and food costs.
After catching up some of our sleep, we were on the road towards the border. A short 30-mile day to Teopisca. As we entered the plaza, we saw rockets going up and exploding in the air at about five second intervals. It was Valentines Day and their way of celebrating was to send up 100 home made rockets. As usual the plaza was full of seats, but these were quite different from the usual lavishly decorated cast iron found in most places. The seats were concrete, but completely covered with colourful hand made tiles with a hand painted picture in the centre of each seat. Each of the 40 seats was different.
Approaching the Guatemala border after almost 9,000 miles. Next report from Guatemala.